Incidentally, it sheds light on why Adolf Hitler—who was born in Austria—is what he is. Radetzky himself has a hankering for Anschluss. And the Germanic people in the “Radetzky March” fear the Slavs and dislike the Jews. Hitler has merely inherited an old “earth hunger” which bids now to upset the peace of Europe, as it did in 1914. The old grudges lie centuries deep.
Joseph Roth is one of the authors who has had to flee Hitler. Along with the Zweigs, Stefan and Arnold, Leon Feuchtwanger, and others, he is now an exile from Germany. And he is one of the galaxy of great novelists from Mitteleuropa whose fate is perplexing the Viking Press, whose list, presided over by the shrewd and intelligent Ben Heubst, includes the two Zweigs and Feuchtwanger. Marshall Best of the Viking staff is afraid the consequences of exile will show in future work of these writers. The test of being cut off from their source material, their roots, must be met. Can it be met without resort to an overt propaganda which is nowhere apparent in the poetic and skilled pages of “Radetzky March”?
“If you want a high literary experience, to be rocked between emotional extremes by a writer with perfect pitch in any realm, you won’t do better than this collection of letters by an impoverished alcoholic, who died with two bedraggled suitcases to his name.”
“I am unhappy, confused, wholly unable to leave the four walls I’ve thrown up around me and the book, though it feels more like a mountain range in which I wander about in terror. One day, everything comes off, the next day it’s all shit. Tricky, treacherous business.”
Joseph Roth remarking to his friend Friedrich Traugott Gubler on the progress of his novel-in-progress, The Radetzky March.
“Some writers’ lives are estimable, some enviable, some exemplary. And some send a shudder of gratitude down the spine that this life happened to somebody else. It isn’t necessarily about success or acclaim — most rational people would very much prefer to have had Rimbaud’s life rather than Somerset Maugham’s. But sometimes it is. In the ranks of Mephistophelean terror, there are few more frightening stories than the life of the Austrian novelist Joseph Roth.”
Philip Hensher, author of The Northern Clemency, reviewsJoseph Roth: A Life in Letters in The Spectator
“You are right to be Goethean—it’s the only way of writing well in German.”
“Dear Resia, I want to answer your letter as promptly as you wrote it—if not more so, seeing as it’s Sunday, and there’s little to do. When I wrote my last letter to ask you if I might come, that wasn’t a serious inquiry: you shouldn’t take everything seriously. I am a sworn enemy to etiquette.” Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters translated and edited by Michael Hofmann
“In the winemaking mecca on Argentina’s western edge, the landscape is harshly photogenic. A desert slope pressed into the rain shadow of the Andes, Mendoza and its fellow Argentine wine capitals of Salta and San Juan look like the set of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. These oases beneath the cordillera are happy accidents, precarious outposts that, save for the lucky nutrition provided by Andean snow runoff, would be little more than places where dirt goes to die.” The Vineyard at the End of the World: Maverick Winemakers and the Rebirth of Malbec by Ian Mount
“I feel driven to inform you personally that Paris is the capital of the world, and that you must come here. Whoever has not been here is only half a human, and no sort of European. Paris is free, intellectual in the best sense, and ironic in the most majestic pathos. Any chauffeur is wittier that our wittiest authors. We really are an unhappy bunch. Here everyone smiles at me, I fall in love with all the women, even the oldest of them, to the point of contemplating matrimony. I could weep when I cross the Seine bridges, for the first time in my life I am shattered by the aspect of buildings and streets, I feel at ease with everyone, though we continually misunderstand each other in matters of practicalities, merely because we so delightfully understand each other in matters of nuance. Were I a French author, I wouldn’t bother printing anything, I would just read and speak. The cattle drovers with whom I eat breakfast are so cultivated and noble as to put our ministers of state to shame, patriotism is justified (but only here!), nationalism is an expression of a European conscience, any poster is a poem, the announcements in a magistrates court are as sublime as our best prose, film placards contain more imagination and psychology than our contemporary novels, soldiers are whimsical children, policemen amusing editorialists. You must come here!”
“My mistrust kills all warmth, as bleach kills most germs. I no longer understand the forms of human intercourse. A harmless conversation chokes me. I am incapable of speaking an innocent word. I don’t understand how people utter banalities. How they manage to sing. How they manage to play charades. If only the traditional forms still applied! But the new informality in Germany kills everything. I can’t participate.”